Dean Wesley Smith on Making a Living With Short Stories

For those of you that missed the bandwagon, Dean Wesley Smith wrote a blog post that spelled out the math behind making a living with short stories.  It's an interesting post.  Well worth the read.  It's also the same thing I said six months ago but it's always nice to know others support your theory =)

The general gist of his post as that you have to bank on both quality and quantity.  As a short story writer, you have to crank out new stories constantly and be versatile enough to spread yourself out to different genres.  I agree with all of that.  What I didn't agree with was that he suggested pricing standalone short stories around 5,000 words at $2.99.

Which is why it was interesting to me that he followed that up with another post on book pricing.  He talks about consumer expectation.  People have been conditioned to pay $5 for a coffee.  Whereas in ebook land we have a whole crowd of authors that essentially know nothing about pricing models so we shoot ourselves in the foot by trying to sell everything at 99 cents.

Personally, I think this is a skewed view for several reasons.  Dean is unquestionably successful at his writing.  I won't even try to argue otherwise.  But he came into ebooks already established from the old business model.  Same goes for Joe Konrath.  Those guys are correct in that we should value our work but they still have what a lot of us lack: established readership.

And I mean established readership on two levels.  The first is just people that are familiar enough with your author name to trust that they will probably enjoy any new works you produce.  The second level is you as an author have enough writing experience and have developed your style to the point that even if you published a book under an unknown pen name, it would probably appeal to that same target audience.

Dean and Joe are aware of the first level.  But I think that they often discount the second level while doing their "calculations."  It takes years to fully mature as a writer.  To hit that point where you are both writing what you want to write and able to factor in the needs of your paying audience.

A few weeks ago I interviewed Hugh Howey and he said something that I think is really important:  "Give your work away until you can afford to charge for it."  Frankly, setting your book at $2.99 out of principle and then having it never sell is a waste of time.  You're not establishing your readership.  And if you are fresh into the ebook business, readers are your editors.  The feedback that you get from reviews is really the only way you can refine your skill.

So, yes, value your work.  But also realize that if you want to make a living at it you first need paying readers.


  1. I agree with you. When you spend $5 at Starbucks, you know exactly what you are going to be getting. When you spend $5 for fiction from an unknown writer, you don't know what you are going to be getting.

  2. Exactly. People buy the brand, not the product.

  3. I disagree. I love Starbucks coffee in general, but I won't buy from them just because of their brand. Some of their coffees, I don't like. I consider books to be far more important. I am more than willing to take the risk and spend $5 on an unknown author (every author was unknown at some point anyway) than on coffee. There is always something to learn from every book (even what not to do) and I think authors have to give the good example and read as much as they can.

    1. I think the main point, though, is that you already know what they are before you even purchase their coffee. That's brand name recognition even if you don't like some of their stuff.

  4. True, but like I said before, knowing the brand, doesn't necessarily mean I will like every product. I like Stephen King in general, but I don't like all of his books. I think giving new authors a shot is worth it-otherwise one will end up reading only books by certain authors, which is kind of boring. Personally, I find something to like in every book, so even if I am not satisfied completely, I don't consider it a waste of my money.
    That being said, of course, I won't spend $12 on an author I am not familiar with (there is a limit to everything).

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